First spacewalk for Atlantis crew at Space Station

By RIA Novosti

Russian Mission Control (Moscow Region) : Russian specialists monitoring the Atlantis mission to the International Space Station (ISS), said the crew of the US space shuttle were preparing for their first space walk Monday. This comes a day after docking with the orbital station, run jointly by Russia's Federal Space Agency and NASA.

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Astronauts Rick Sturckow, Lee Archambault, Patrick Forrester, James Reilly, Danny Olivas, Steven Swanson, and Clayton Anderson will make three scheduled space walks and possibly a fourth, unplanned one during their week-long stay on the ISS. Their main task will be to fit out the orbital station with a new solar array, capable of generating an additional 14 kilowatts of power.

NASA engineers on the ground will meanwhile be trying to evaluate the potential danger for the Atlantis shuttle of a loosened thermal blanket discovered on its surface during a check Saturday.

A similar heat shield damage led to the disintegration of the Columbia shuttle with seven astronauts on board, during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere in 2003. All but one member of the Atlantis crew, who began their mission last Friday, are to return to Earth next week. Anderson will remain on the ISS through October, replacing Sunita Williams as a flight engineer of the station's Expedition 15, which also includes Russia's Fyodr Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov.